SBS Tournament of Champions: Walker out to early lead
PGA champion ahead by two shots after first-round 65 at Kapalua Plantation Course
KAPALUA — Jimmy Walker arrived at the Kapalua Plantation Course in 2014 as the FedEx Cup leader. He went home from his first event on Maui with a tie for 21st place.
Oh, how times have changed for Walker, who will celebrate his 38th birthday in 10 days.
The world’s 21st-ranked golfer walked off the 18th hole on Thursday as the leader of the SBS Tournament of Champions, two strokes clear of the field after an 8-under-par 65.
Walker has six tour wins, all since 2013, including the 2016 PGA Championship.
“A lot of great memories of golf, a lot of wins, a major championship, a lot of experience,” Walker said of the last three-plus years. “I feel different, I feel like I’m part of the top level of golf now. It’s been a great ride and I think it’s just getting going, too, so I’m excited.”
Jim Herman, a 39-year-old former assistant club professional at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey, was tied for second place with at 67 with Justin Thomas and Ryan Moore.
Being a major champion is something new for Walker, who won the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club on Oahu in 2014 and 2015.
“There was a lot to deal with right afterwards, I played some tournaments I probably shouldn’t have,” he said. “I felt like I had a decent (FedEx Cup) playoffs. I had a third place alone at Deutsche Bank, I played pretty good the next week at the BMW. The Tour Championship was OK and then I played well at the Ryder Cup and then mentally I was kind of done after that.”
Walker, who lost a playoff to Patrick Reed here in 2015 and finished tied for 10th last year, wants to put Maui on his schedule as many times as possible.
“I enjoy being here, I love the scenery, I’m a very visual person, so I enjoy looking, I love watching the whales,” he said. “Walking around, it’s just a pretty place. The food is great, everybody’s in a good mood. I love stepping off the plane — the air’s just awesome. There’s something, just something does it for me here.”
Herman played the Plantation Course in 2005 with rental clubs while on his honeymoon.
“Did I ever think I would be here at that time, 2005?” said Herman, who played a round of golf with president-elect Donald Trump two days before Christmas. “This is a long way from there, 12 years. I’d like to say that I always believed it but it’s a pretty long way from being assistant pro to a tournament winner on the PGA Tour. Obviously it’s attainable and I hope everyone that’s out there grinding and trying knows that they can do it; if I did it, anybody can.”
Thomas was impressed with Kapalua’s 7,452-yard, par-73 layout.
“You can see the ocean from about every hole, and it’s a great golf course,” he said. “You know, small field, we’re out in twosomes, just kind of zipping around. Other than the fact that this is the hardest walk I think I’ll ever play in golf, there’s nothing really to complain about.”
Daniel Berger and Jason Dufner were tied for fifth at 68.
“I had some time off from the end of last year for me,” Dufner said. “So to come out bogey-free, had some good weather today, not too windy, no rain. So it was nice to be here.”
Berger said the next three days could be interesting. Only three players in the field of 32 shot over par.
“I prepared really well for this event and have got off to a good start and just hang in there and see what happens,” Berger said.
World No. 1 Jason Day is tied for 12th at 70. He had three birdies from Nos. 13 to 16, but bogeyed the final hole. Day was playing his first tournament in more than three months as he recovered from a back injury.
“Obviously the way everything finished last year was a little bit disappointing,” Day said. “I understand that I need to make sure that I need to take care of myself. Obviously out here longevity is obviously key to the career, and I had to do the right thing and take some time off.
“But standing on the tee, I was a little nervous. I haven’t stood on a tee for three months. It’s a long time.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
PGA SBS Tournament of Champions
Thursday’s First Round
At Kapalua Plantation Course
Jimmy Walker 31-34–65 -8
Jim Herman 32-35–67 -6
Justin Thomas 34-33–67 -6
Ryan Moore 31-36–67 -6
Daniel Berger 31-37–68 -5
Jason Dufner 34-34–68 -5
Cody Gribble 33-36–69 -4
Rod Pampling 35-34–69 -4
Pat Perez 34-35–69 -4
Hideki Matsuyama 34-35–69 -4
Dustin Johnson 34-35–69 -4
Aaron Baddeley 34-36–70 -3
Tony Finau 36-34–70 -3
Fabian Gomez 34-36–70 -3
William McGirt 35-35–70 -3
Brandt Snedeker 34-36–70 -3
Patrick Reed 35-35–70 -3
Jason Day 34-36–70 -3
Greg Chalmers 35-36–71 -2
Charley Hoffman 34-37–71 -2
Russell Knox 34-37–71 -2
Vaughn Taylor 35-37–72 -1
Brendan Steele 34-38–72 -1
Brian Stuard 38-34–72 -1
Jhonattan Vegas 37-35–72 -1
Bubba Watson 35-37–72 -1
Jordan Spieth 34-38–72 -1
Mackenzie Hughes 36-37–73 E
Branden Grace 35-38–73 E
Billy Hurley III 36-38–74 +1
James Hahn 38-36–74 +1
Si Woo Kim 36-39–75 +2
10:20 a.m.–James Hahn, Si Woo Kim.
10:30 a.m.–Branden Grace, Billy Hurley III.
10:40 a.m.–Jordan Spieth, Mackenzie Hughes.
10:50 a.m.–Jhonattan Vegas, Bubba Watson.
11 a.m.–Brendan Steele, Brian Stuard.
11:10 a.m.–Russell Knox, Vaughn Taylor.
11:20 a.m.–Greg Chalmers, Charley Hoffman.
11:30 a.m.–Patrick Reed, Jason Day.
11:40 a.m.–William McGirt, Brandt Snedeker.
11:50 a.m.–Tony Finau, Fabian Gomez.
Noon–Dustin Johnson, Aaron Baddeley.
12:10 p.m.–Pat Perez, Hideki Matsuyama.
12:20 p.m.–Cody Gribble, Rod Pampling.
12:30 p.m.–Daniel Berger, Jason Dufner.
12:40 p.m.–Justin Thomas, Ryan Moore.
12:50 p.m.–Jimmy Walker, Jim Herman.